A legislative committee is drafting a bill that proposes a constitutional amendment to ensure no net loss of public land or access, should Wyoming gain control of federal holdings, a lawmaker said Monday.
Lawmakers on the Select Federal Land Management Committee will consider the bill at a meeting in Riverton on Nov. 9. At the same meeting, committee members have scheduled discussion of a study that concludes that Wyoming’s management of federal lands is an improbable proposition.
The committee’s agenda lists “Draft Legislation: Public Lands-Constitutional Amendment (17LSO-179)” as an action and discussion item. By press time Monday, a week and a day before the meeting, the draft bill was not available for public review.
“It should be out in a day or two,” for the public to see, committee member Sen. Eli Bebout (R, SD-26, Riverton) said Monday. “I’m going to fine-tune it this week.”
“What it essentially says is there will be no net loss of any land should it be transferred from the federal government to the state,” Bebout said.
The draft bill proposes a constitutional amendment and that would have to be approved by voters. The amendment would guarantee the no-net-loss provision, Bebout said. The proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee continued access and would require transferred lands to be managed under multiple use, sustained yield principles, he said.
“It does not call for a transfer,” Bebout said. “That’s not what any of this is about.”
Bebout said the draft bill and proposed constitutional amendment should put to rest fears that western efforts to transfer federal holdings to states would necessarily lead to land sales and loss of hunting and fishing opportunities, among other things. Americans own 30 million acres or 48 percent of Wyoming as national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and BLM property.
“There’s a group out there that says we’re trying to sell off lands or privatize them,” Bebout said. Conservation groups have said that if Wyoming were to obtain federal property — a legal improbability — those lands would have to be sold in order to finance management of the lands.
Bebout also said the possibility for a transfer of federal lands is “remote.”
“The only way to do it would take Congressional approval,” he said. “Not in my lifetime or your lifetime will that change.”
The bill is on the committee agenda along with the presentation and consideration of a 357-page study on whether Wyoming could and should manage federal lands. The study presents state management of federal holdings as an unlikely proposition. It suggests instead that Wyoming collaborate with the federal government to influence decisions regarding federal land use.
Committee chairwoman Norine Kasperik (R, HD-32, Gillette) said she anticipates citizen involvement during the meeting in Riverton. “It’s been a topic of discussion for the last several years,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of interest in it. There’s certainly a lot of people on either side of the issue.”
Representatives from one conservation group were uncertain what to make of the significant draft legislation that is still secret.
“It’s alarming to me we haven’t even reviewed the [state management of federal land] study and here we have a constitutional amendment,” said Gary Wilmot, director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “I just don’t understand why we’re taking a big leap forward before we look at the data we just spent $75,000 gathering.”
Outdoor Council staffer Steff Kessler said the secrecy regarding the bill is somewhat disconcerting. “We really don’t know what it [the bill] would entail.”
The study on Wyoming managing federal land was thorough and underscored the difficulty and expense of the proposition, she said. “We would like to see this report put to rest this entire effort by the Legislature,” to own or control federal property, she said. Instead, the state should “support the current opportunities we have of getting local involvement into our federal land-management processes.”
Wilmot said he hopes that if lawmakers decide state involvement in management of federal public lands is unworkable, they don’t then go on to decide that “state ownership is the logical path forward.”